A Taste of Dublin, Brugge (again), and Amsterdam

I have been lucky enough to have a few visitors while living overseas, including my sister and her husband last summer.  My sister’s husband’s brother (did you follow that?) is also stationed overseas in Germany, so they made a trip to see us and then meet up with him and spend some time in Germany.  Unfortunately, B was out of town for work while they were here, so he missed out on spending time and traveling with us.

This was Shelby & Uriah’s first time meeting Benjamin as well, so they were super excited!  While in England the four of us made a day trip down to London, checking out the typical sights and doing a lot of walking.  We also rode the London Eye, a first for me.  Benjamin absolutely loved it, but I wasn’t overly impressed for the price.  It was a cool thing to experience and the views were pretty amazing, but the dang thing moves so. darn. slow.  

Anyway, I digress; this post is about Dublin, Brugge, and Amsterdam isn’t it?  After a couple of days in England, we set off.  Our plan was to fly to Dublin for two days, then fly to Brussels, where Aaron (my sister’s husband’s brother) would meet up with us driving and take us to Brugge.  We would spend a night there, then head to Amsterdam for about the same amount of time.  From there, I would head back to London, and the rest of them would make their way back to Germany and do some exploring along the way.

This was Benjamin’s first flight– he was about seven months old at the time.  For anyone interested in how I travel with my little guy, I am a babywearing mama and used a K’tan carrier when he was itty bitty (which I LOVED), then switched to an Ergo original when he had good head control and was a bit bigger.  So, for traveling, the Ergo is/was my savior–when he was little I typically didn’t even bring a stroller or carseat on trips when I didn’t have to.  This trip was a bit tricky though; I knew I would have help carrying stuff during most of the trip, but coming back to the UK was going to be difficult since I would be by myself with Benjamin.  Also, because Aaron was driving from Germany, I knew I would have to bring a carseat.  This was my packing strategy: I had Benjamin’s diaper bag (using a backpack is a thousand times easier than a traditional diaper bag for us), my carry-on (which is what I packed both Benjamin and my clothes in), Benjamin’s carseat (which was checked for free), and I carried him in the Ergo.  [On the return trip, I managed by wearing Benjamin in the Ergo on my front, wearing the backpack on my back, and carrying the carseat and my bag together.  It was a little bit of a pain, but definitely doable.]

Again, I digress.

Dublin, Ireland…. We left London the morning of June 23 and arrived in Dublin around 9:30.  Because I had the carseat, we decided it would be easiest to take a cab to our hotel.  We stayed in a triple room at the Clifden House, which was beautiful, clean, and comfortable.  It was a little bit of a walk from the centre of the city, but definitely doable!  After we dropped our bags and the carseat, we headed out to explore.  Ironically, one of my sister’s high school friends was in Dublin at the same time, so we met up with her for brunch.  She introduced us to the delicious Queen of Tarts.  {I think we ate here both mornings we were there *AND* I took B there when we went back to Dublin in August…so yummy!}

Our first tourist stop was St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  It was, like most cathedrals I’ve seen in Europe, beautiful.  I am always in awe of the architecture and stained glass windows.

After wandering the streets a bit, we rested at the apartment, then headed out again for the afternoon/evening.  We took the tram toward the Guinness Storehouse, but we had heard that the tour there wasn’t as good as the Old Jameson Distillery, so we just peeked in before moving along.

*Sidenote: After returning to Dublin with B, I wholeheartedly disagree with that opinion–I absolutely loved the Guinness Storehouse tour and would do it again in the heartbeat!  I will write about that in my next Dublin/Northern Ireland post*

Dublin is a really interesting mix of old and new, quaint and not-so-quaint, beautiful yet also kind of dirty and gross.  I liked it, but not as much as I expected to.

We ate at the famous Temple Bar for dinner, and it did not disappoint!  My sandwich was phenomenal, the Guinness was incredible (and I am not even much of a Guinness drinker), and the atmosphere was fantastic!  I am always a little bit hesitant to go to the “hot spot” touristy places, but I was really glad we went!

After a few beers a nearby pub, we called it a night.  Oh right, and some gelato.  For some reason, I just love eating gelato wherever we go 🙂

Dublin is kind of like Brugge in that you can pretty much see the main highlights in a day or two, so we decided to start the next day with a little morning trip out to Dún Laoghaire (pronounced “Dun Leery”), a nearby seaside town.  We hopped on the DART train and took a pretty 20 minute ride to the harbor area.  It was nice to get out of the city for a few hours; it was quiet and the water was beautiful.

Coming back from Dún Laoghaire, we decided to get off the train at Grand Canal Dock Station, which looked pretty trendy and cool in pictures, but was actually fairly disappointing.  We found an Irish pub for lunch {I had some traditional Irish stew; yummy but nothing to write home about} and then made our way back toward city centre.  We stopped for a beer and to listen to some live music, which was one of the things I loved most about Dublin.  I am all for a good pint and some good tunes!

Our final stop in Dublin was the The Old Jameson Distillery.  My sister and her husband are both whiskey fans, so they were especially excited about this!  While I do enjoy whiskey every now and then, I am definitely no connoisseur!  The tour was really informative and our guide was hilarious!  I felt incredibly odd bringing a 7-month-old into the distillery, but he slept in the carrier the entire time {baby carriers have magical sleepy dust, I swear!}!  The tour guided us through the different stages of Jameson production, and at the end there was a tasting that included a scotch, Jameson, and American whiskey.  Uriah was a champ and took them all; Shelby and I both took some sips but weren’t tough enough to finish them all!

Overall, I liked Dublin, but didn’t fall in love with it, like I had other places.  I think seeing places in such a short timeframe is also hard because I love to wander, explore, and get lost in cities.  Onto Brugge…

Brugge, Belgium….  Early Thursday morning (June 25), we hopped on a flight from Dublin to Brussels, Belgium.  As I said, Aaron drove from Germany to pick us up and take us to Brugge.  The drive was quite the adventure in itself.  There were lots of delays on the highway, so we ended up taking all kinds of random roads, including backroads *literally* through farms as well as crazy city streets through Ghent.  Ghent looked really cool- if I ever make it back to Belgium, I think I want to take some time to see it!

Anyway, we made it to our apartment mid-afternoon, much later than we had hoped.  The apartment was fantastic!  It was spacious, clean, and really reasonably priced.  It was located right outside of the city centre, about a 10-15 minute walk.  Our first stop, of course, was a waffle!  Then we wandered around, enjoying the beautiful summer day.  My sister, Benjamin, and I took a canal tour (the same one I had done with L on my girls day) while the boys found a pub.  Benjamin was definitely a crowd pleaser on the boat- he even got a picture with our driver!

Afterward, we joined the boys for a few beers, then headed to The Church of Our Lady (again, the same church I visited with L).  Aaron is an art history buff, so we all paid to go see the Michelangelo sculpture housed there, Madonna of Brugge.  It was pretty impressive to see something that old and well-known!  It was a long day of travel, so we made it an early night after dinner.

The next morning, we had an absolutely fabulous breakfast at Detavernier/ “Carpe Diem” tearoom.  Shelby, her hubby, and Aaron all were hoping to climb the Belfry before we headed to Amsterdam, but when we arrived, there was a huuuuuge group of kiddos on a field trip there ahead of them, which was taking foreverrrrrrr.  So they decided against the climb and we got on the road to Amsterdam around midday.

Amsterdam, Netherlands….     

The drive from Brugge to Amsterdam was about 3-3.5 hours (and much less eventful than our drive from Brussels to Brugge, thank goodness!).  The AirBnB apartment we stayed at was smack dab in the middle of the city, so we had to find a parking garage.  I would suggest to anyone visiting Amsterdam not to drive, or to find a park and ride outside of the city, as driving there is a little crazy and parking is pretty pricey.  Getting our bags to  the apartment was a bit of a hassle too; the narrow cobblestone streets and crowds did not mix well with Shelby & Uriah’s roller suitcase (they had a bigger bag since they were staying in Europe longer…).  The apartment was a bit tricky to find, as it was situated over a cute little jewelry/gifts shop.  It was adorable though–very small and cozy, but cute nonetheless.  The owners were great too!  We had a great view of the neighborhood.  **If you have big luggage and stay here, take caution, as the staircase was spiral and very narrow!  The price was a bit steep too, but from what I’ve seen and heard, Amsterdam is just a more expensive city to stay in.

Amsterdam is gorgeous.  It has a similar look to Brugge with the canals, cobblestone, architecture, and old-Europe feel, but you can tell its bigger, busier, and more culturally diverse.  It is known for its bikes- and even though I knew this before getting there, I was completely unprepared for the actual sheer volume of bikes I saw!  It seemed as if everyone was on a bike!  While we were there, we learned that there are approximately 700,000 people in Amsterdam, but over a million bikes!  and they have to fish 25,000+ out of the canals each year.  After dropping our bags off, we wandered around and just explored the sights and sounds of Amsterdam.  Dinner was okay, but nothing to write home about….HOWEVER….our dessert for the evening…OUT.OF.THIS.WORLD.  We had Poffertjes from a local little shop, and they were ah.ma.zing.  Seriously, getcha some.  We picked up some wine and beer to enjoy in the apartment and relaxed the rest of the evening.

For our second day in Amsterdam, we were planning on renting bikes and braving the crazy, narrow streets of the city.  However, I got a migraine early, so I knew I couldn’t go (so, so bummed 😦 ).  The rest of the group decided not to go either {which I still feel horrible about!}.  We ate some breakfast, then began to explore again.  The boys wanted to go to a sporting good store, so Shelby, Benjamin, and I explored a church, had a light lunch, and just relaxed by the canals for a bit.  I was finally starting to feel better, so once we reconvened, we took a canal boat tour.  It was incredibly informative {even though one of the guides was a bit of a blonde…} and, like Brugge, a great way to see the many different areas of the city.  We boated under lots and lots of bridges, alongside many houseboats, and through the famous Red Light District.  That area isn’t really my “thing”, but I think if I went back without Benjamin it would be interesting to explore.

After the tour, Benjamin snuck in a nap while we chilled out by the canals, and the other three climbed the bell tower in the church.  It was getting later in the afternoon, and I had to head to Eindhoven, where I would stay the night and fly out early the next morning, and the others had to begin their journey back toward Germany.  Aaron drove Benjamin and I to our hotel, and we all had an overpriced, unimpressive dinner at the hotel before they headed out.  It was really bittersweet saying goodbye to them, as I knew it would probably be quite awhile until I’d see them next.  It was so, so good to be able to spend time and travel with them though!

So, my overall thoughts on Amsterdam:  It’s kind of hard to say because I feel like I didn’t really get the “full experience” between the short stay, having a 7-month-old,  and my horrible migraine.  It was such a gorgeous, exciting city with so much to do, but I feel like I didn’t do a lot.  I did like the laid back vibe and thoroughly enjoyed the people watching there!  If I were to go back to the Netherlands/Amsterdam, I definitely would want to rent bikes, see the Anne Frank House (the line was outrageous when we went by; I’ve heard it’s  best to get tickets well in advance), explore the Red Light District a bit, and see the countryside some too!

Dublin/Brugge/Amsterdam Travel Journal

 

Trading Turkey for Tapas: Thanksgiving in Barcelona

Ahhh Barcelona.  Spain’s second most populated city.  It has definitely claimed itself a spot in my top cities that I have visited so far.  The architecture, the beaches, the excitement and commotion of the city, everything appealed to me.

I apologize in advance, as this is a long post…we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Barcelona and I of course took a bazillion photos :).  Some of the highlights I talk about and highly recommend include:

-La Sagrada Familia

-Park Guell

-The Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour

-Font Montjuïc

-Barceloneta/beach area

This past Thanksgiving, we decided to forgo our normal tradition of having a huge turkey dinner with our overseas “framily” and opted to travel with them instead.  We tried to get all of our friends to join us in Spain, but alas, only four of them were able.  Anyway, the seven of us (six adults and 1-year-old Benjamin) found a great apartment on AirBnB {almost always the first place I check for accommodations when traveling!}.  Unfortunately, the listing is no longer available, so I can’t post a link to it, but it was perfect for our group!  It was just outside of the super touristy part of the city, making it quiet and relaxing, but easily accessible via public transport and the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus [which I will talk about in a moment].  The apartment had a fantastic balcony, which was used extensively by our crew, especially in the evenings in conjunction with some adult beverages.  {Once again, I was pregnant and unable to enjoy the many perks of such grand travel destinations….I will be back to Spain one day, if only to enjoy a Sangria!}

As I mentioned, Benjamin joined us on this trip, and though it wasn’t his first flight, he did amazing on the plane!  We flew into Barcelona El Prat airport on Thanksgiving Day (November 26) and landed around 11am.  {For those curious, we generally fly out of London Stansted Airport, which is a little over an hour away from where we live, and we typically use Ryanair  flights, as they are cheap!}  Once we arrived in Barcelona, we took the Aerobus from the airport to city centre, then had about a 20 minute walk to our apartment.  We got our luggage situated at the apartment and found some lunch at Piazza D’Italia.  It was DE.LI.CIOUS!  Seriously, a perfect way to kick off our weekend of overindulgence. 🙂

After lunch, we sort of just wandered around to get a feel for the city.  I don’t think any of us realized how big Barcelona is.  There are lots of different districts with different vibes.  We somehow ended up down by the coast, so we decided to take a boat tour of the harbor.  This could have been a really enjoyable experience, but we did not do our research well enough.  First, B had to use the restroom really, really, really badly, and we bought tickets so quick that he didn’t have time to find a bathroom before we boarded the boat.  [I won’t go into detail on how that problem was solved…]  Second, the weather had been incredibly nice all day, but the sun was starting to set and it got really chilly, really fast.  We were definitely all a bit unprepared for that.  Third, we booked the 45 harbor minute tour instead of the 90 minute one, thinking that it would be a nice, relaxing quick ride, and that we didn’t need to be on a boat for an hour and a half.  Well, the 45 minute ride only took us around the marina and shipping yard area of the harbor, not out by the actual beaches and such.  It was a relaxing little break from all of the walking we had done that day, but we definitely should’ve looking into it a bit more.  Oh well, ya live and ya learn, right?

As the sun set, I did get some really great night photos by the port of Barcelona area!

We ended our day with “Thanksgiving Dinner” tapas at Maitea Taverna, near the apartment–highly recommended by our AirBnB host.  B and I had never really gotten into the tapas fad in the states or elsewhere, so we weren’t exactly sure what to expect.  We tried lots of different tapas, usually bread or toast topped with various toppings (most of which we had no idea what it was).  While we enjoyed a lot of them, we both agreed that we aren’t really “tapa people”, as we much prefer a full, hot meal for dinner.

Our whole group decided to do the two day Barcelona Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour Friday and Saturday.  We all agreed that it was well worth it- because Barcelona is big and somewhat spread out, there is no way we would’ve seen nearly as much as we did without the bus tour.  With a one-year-old in a stroller, the hop-on, hop-off bus was also ideal– he loved sitting in our laps on the top deck, watching everything around him.  He even snuck in a nap or two on the bus!  I thoroughly enjoyed the audio commentary- very informative for my nerdy self!  There are two routes included in the tour, an East route and a West route.  Conveniently, there was a stop just a couple of blocks from our apartment.

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We started our Friday at La Sagrada Familia, probably Antoni Gaudi‘s most well-known work of architecture.  We purchased tickets in advance for 10am, another smart move on our part, especially with a stroller.  The outside of the basilica is absolutely incredible–and it’s not done yet!    I have seen a lot of cathedrals in Europe, but this one was really different- Gaudi’s style definitely shines through!

I was actually fairly surprised by the interior.  It was much more modern-looking than I expected.  It was still incredibly beautiful!  The way the light reflects and infuses the entire place is almost ethereal.  I love the peace and tranquility of the inside of a church, no matter where in the world you are.

From the Sagrada Familia, we hopped on the bus toward Park Guell.  Though there is a “Monumental Zone” that costs money to enter, we just wandered around the free area, meandering through the beautiful landscape.  The park is nestled on a hill, so we came upon some breathtaking views of the city.  Even at the end of November, the weather was perfect– mid-60s and sunny!  In Park Guell, we also picked up some street art- B and I try to get street or local art as souvenirs from our travels- we eventually want to create a gallery wall filled with our adventures {but for now we are using every extra dollar to continue traveling…framing and hanging shall wait :)}

We stopped at Lata Berna for a yummy lunch, then headed back to get on the bus.  After the lengthy walk around Park Guell earlier, we were happy to sit on the bus, listening to the commentary as it chauffeured us around Barcelona.  We saw and heard about many of the historic and famous sites, such as Casa Batllo {another Gaudi masterpiece–we did not visit} and Plaça Catalunya, the central square in Barcelona.

At Plaça Catalunya, we switched to the other route to see the other side of Barcelona.  This route took us uphill through Parc de Monjuïc.  This gave us fantastic views from the opposite side of the city.  I didn’t realize how varied the landscape of Barcelona was.  It contains a little bit of everything!

After a relatively  uninspiring dinner, we ended our day at the Font Mágica/Font Monjuïc.  It has a phenomenal light and fountain show each evening, choreographed to music.  All of us enjoyed it!!

Saturday was our second day of the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour, and we set out mostly to just explore the hustle and bustle of the city.  We found an amazingly deliciously scrumptious and indulgent {to say the least} sweets shop called Chok.  Holy cow, guys.  Find it.  Indulge. Love it.  I got a pastry topped with Nutella and mint chocolate shavings….I’m drooling just thinking about it.  The shop was located right along Las Ramblas, the main touristy strip in Barcelona.  There were lots of little kiosks, shops, restaurants, and bars along this boulevard, which is busy day and night.

Our next stop was La Boqueria, the most well-known market in Barcelona.  It reminded me a little of Borough Market in London {one of my favorite places!}.  I love how lively, bright, and colorful markets are!

It was a gorgeous afternoon, so we hopped on the upper deck of the bus and rode down to the beach area of the city.  Ironically (or maybe not, who knows?), we found a Mexican restaurant for lunch overlooking the water.  I really wish I knew the same of the place, as I would definitely recommend it!  Eating Mexican in Spain with a view of the ocean is a memory I won’t forget!

B and one of his friends had tickets to the FC Barcelona soccer football match Saturday afternoon, so the rest of us headed to the zoo to entertain little man for a bit.  Once again, we should’ve done our research a bit better, as our timing wasn’t great.  We got in just fine and began walking around, but shortly after we arrived, they made an announcement saying they were closing in 30 minutes.  We got to see a few animals, but I was overall not incredibly impressed.  The big cats (jaguars, etc.) were all in tiny areas and quite a few of the animals (elephants, hippo, giraffes, etc.) were nowhere to be seen at all.  There was a petting zoo that we visited, but Benjamin was not a huge fan of the goats!

The soccer football match was over as we were leaving the zoo, so we met back up with the boys at the apartment.  One of the guys decided to call it a night, but the rest of us headed toward the Barcelona Cathedral to see the Fira de Santa Llúcia Christmas Market.  The city was all lit up at night with Christmas decorations, which I loved {I am a bit of a Christmas junkie!}  The market was cute, but not overly exciting (especially compared to the grand Winter Wonderland in London!!).  We bought some Christmas ornaments and watched some street performers before heading to find a yummy Italian place for dinner.  All of us cleaned our plates, stuffing ourselves full of delicious pasta and garlic bread.

Sunday morning, 3 of the members of our group headed back to London, so the rest of us checked out of the apartment and into our hotel for the night (by the airport, since we were flying back to London early Monday morning).  We planned the day to be kind of a relaxing day since we had been so busy all weekend.  Once we got back into the city, we made our way toward the beach area again, checking out Barceloneta, a cute little area with shops and restaurants.  I absolutely loved this neighborhood.  It felt really authentic and reminded me of some of the hipster kind of areas in Atlanta and other cities I’ve been to.  We had lunch there and spent most of the early afternoon wandering the streets and beaches.  The old ladies in Spain adored Benjamin.  I can’t tell you how many googly-eyed ladies ogled him–I even had a handful of broken Spanish conversations with a few admirers who just went on and on about how cute he was.  What can I say, B and I make cute babies 😉

*Sidenote: speaking of speaking Spanish, I did pretty well for myself conversing with the locals, even though the area speaks mostly Catalan, which is a bit different than traditional Spanish.  There were definitely a few cab rides and interactions that may not have gone quite as smoothly had I not known as much as I did!  High-five, high school Spanish classes! 

Our last stop in Barcelona was the aquarium.  I think I was spoiled living in Atlanta, as the aquarium there is amazing!!  The one in Barcelona was ok; there were lots of fish, sharks, and some penguins, as well as a pretty cool interactive area for kids.  Benjamin seemed to enjoy himself, which was the ultimate goal.  🙂

We made it a relatively early evening, as we were exhausted from the excitement of the weekend and had an early flight the following morning.  It was bittersweet to leave Barcelona; I hope to visit again one day [after I make it to all of my other bucket list destinations!].

Barcelona Travel Journal

Travel Journal

I keep a travel journal to record all most of my adventures and keep bits and bobs like ticket stubs, maps, etc.  I try my hardest to update it while I am actually traveling, but every now and then I have to update it later.  Today I am posting pictures of my pages from Porto and Brugge–while all of the writing is done for these pages, I will probably still go back and add drawings, color, or paint some of them.  Most of the writing is similar to what I have written in my blogs (in fact, I often use the journal to jog my memory when blogging).  I apologize in advance for the terrible quality photos, I took them with my camera phone in awful lighting.  My travel journal is definitely one of my prized possessions and I think I would cry if I lost it!

PORTO TRAVEL JOURNAL PAGES

BRUGGE TRAVEL JOURNAL PAGES

Girls’ Day Trip to Brugge

What what, two days IN A ROW?!?!  Who am I, right?  I am going to take us back in time a bit today to last April (2015) when I took a day trip to Belgium with one of my girlfriends.  The travel group here offers all kinds of trips and activities, so we decided to do an extended day trip to Brugge, Belgium.  My friend’s hubby was deployed at the time, so I figured she needed a fun day out without her 3-year-old.  Luckily, I have a fabulous husband who hung out with both Benjamin, who was 5 months at the time, and her 3-year-old for the day.

Since it was an extended day trip, the chartered bus left our area around 3 in the morning.  I think we both tried to sleep on the bus, but I know I was pretty amped up for our mini-getaway, so I don’t think I slept much at all (not to mention I rarely am able to sleep on any sort of vehicle–plane, train, car, or otherwise).

Anyway, the bus took us to the chunnel, which is a channel tunnel running under the English Channel, linking the UK to France.  The bus got on the chunnel near Dover, UK, and off near Calais, France.  From there, it took us the remainder of the way to Brugge, arriving around 10am.

Brugge/Bruges is a city you can instantly fall in love with.  Its cobblestone streets, canals, beautiful architecture, old-Europe charm, and quaint vibe are all so welcoming and lovely, not to mention it has amazing beer, waffles, and chocolate.  I mean really, what else could a gal want?  It would make a perfect romantic getaway; ironically, both times I have been there have been sans hubby.

L and I started the day off right with a breakfast of champions: Belgian waffles topped with ice cream and chocolate sauce, and of course, some coffee [much needed after the bus ride with little to no sleep!].

With full bellies we set off to explore the city.  Brugge isn’t a very big city and we didn’t really have a set plan as far as what we wanted to see or do.  Our first stop ended up being The Church of Our Lady.  Since it was free, we popped in to look around and take some photos of the gorgeous interior.  The church also houses a real Michelangelo , but it was not free so we decided to move along.

*Sidenote: Not to worry, the art teacher in me knew somehow that I would be back and see the sculpture, and I have!  I will post about that another day 🙂

As Brugge is known for its beautiful canals, we decided to take a canal boat tour, which I really enjoyed.  The tour took us through the winding maze of canals, and our boat driver/tour guide gave us some great information about the history of Brugge.  The tour was also a great way to see all of the charming, colorful buildings along the canals.

After our tour, we made our way to market square, the central square in Brugge.  The Belfry of Brugge is the huge bell tower that has been in market square since 1300.  L and I climbed all 366 narrow stairs to the top!  The views were, of course, breathtaking, and we got to see the 47 bells that are played in the tower.

 

We made our way back down to the market square, and had a delicious lunch at a pizza place in the square.  The weather was beautiful, so we sat outside and enjoyed the sights and sounds.  I tried a local beer called “Kwak” which was served in a crazy glass, and was okay, but not as good as some of the Weißbier (wheat beer) I had later in the day.

Most of the rest of the afternoon was spent wandering the cobblestone streets, drinking delicious Belgian beer, stocking up on Belgian chocolate and souveniers, and indulging in yet another Belgian waffle.  At one point, we did find ourselves at a Mexican restuarant (yes, in Belgium!).  L told the waiters it was my birthday {which it had been, a week ago…}, so I got a free shot of *something* (?) with a firecracker rubberbanded to it, as well as free beer glasses!

Finally, we made our way back to the bus after a long day of exploring, getting home late in the evening.  The day trip was a perfect way to see Brugge: we didn’t have to drive or fly (convenient and allowed us to enjoy all that Brugge had to offer in terms of beverages 🙂 ), Brugge is small enough to see most of in a day, and we didn’t have to worry about booking accommodations!  I had such a good time with L and we hope to do another girls day out soon!

 Brugge Travel Journal

 

 

“Babymoon”: Porto, Portugal

I’m back.  Finally.  It’s been a busy year.  Benjamin turned one (!), I finished my master’s degree, I worked two different jobs (and am currently teaching art which makes me incredibly happy), and am now pregnant with Baby Herbie 2.0!  I have also done quite a bit of traveling, which is probably going to be the focus of most of my blogging from now on (don’t worry, I will still post pictures of my incredibly cute baby boy and other adventures in my life, traveling will just be the main focus.)

I was going to progress chronologically through the last year with my travels, but I think I might just kind of hop all over the place instead, starting with our most recent out-of-the-UK travel to Porto, Portugal.

Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal, and is located along the Douro river.  Its western area extends to the Atlantic Ocean.  One of the things it is most famous for is its wine- Port wine.  I will get into that later!

While Benjamin has traveled with us quite extensively, we decided to make this a baby-free trip.  This proved to be a great choice, as Porto was not especially child/stroller-friendly.   B and I arrived in Porto mid-morning Saturday, January 16 after an early flight from London.  We decided to check a bag this trip, as we knew we wanted to bring back some wine from the area (being 4 months pregnant prevented me from fully enjoying the fruits of the Douro valley…pun intended 🙂 ).  We hopped on the metro from the airport and enjoyed an easy 40 minute ride into the city centre.  There, we met up with the owner of the AirBnB apartment we were to be staying at for the weekend.  The apartment was not ready yet, as it was still morning, so the owner was kind enough to take our bag and meet back up with us when the apartment was ready.  He also was incredibly helpful in providing us a map of the city and outlining all of the top sights and some delicious restaurants.

B and I wandered off into the city for a bit, armed with our map and a handful of Portuguese words (which, by the way, is nowhere near as similar to Spanish as I expected!).  We stopped at the Mercado do Balhao first, an open market with food, fish, etc.  Compared to many of the markets I have been to throughout Europe, it was very dilapidated and old, but still had an air of charm and beauty.

 

 

A lot of Porto’s buildings are quite dilapidated actually, which I think I was surprised by. I was also surprised by how hilly Porto was!  I knew Lisbon was hilly, but I didn’t know quite as much about Porto, and hadn’t really paid much attention to the photos I had seen.  It was a little rough on this pregnant lady’s body, but it was worth every step (all 25 miles we walked that weekend)!!  The beautiful tilework, cobblestone streets, and colorful buildings were breathtaking as well.

After the market, we popped into Estacion Sao Bento, a functioning train station filled with the blue tiles the area is famous for.  It was gorgeous!

 

 

We stopped for a light lunch at a cute cafe near our AirBnB- Taberna do Largo – then headed to our AirBnB apartment to rest for a few.  The apartment was absolutely amazing!

Despite being pregnant, we booked a wine tasting at the highly recommended Ferreira Wine Cellar for that evening.  Before crossing the impressive Luis Bridge to get to the “wine cellar side” of the Douro, we wandered along the Ribiera, which is lined with gorgeous shops, buildings, and restaurants.

 

 

Our wine tour was fantastic- our guide was incredibly knowledgable and funny, and even B, the non-wine-drinker, enjoyed it!  I actually learned quite a bit about wine (especially Port wine, which I am not a huge fan of…).  We had a tasting of two types of Port wine at the end of the tour, neither of which I really liked- much too sweet and strong for my liking.

 

 

After the tour we took a “leisurely stroll” (aka a long, steep, arduous hike) up to a building right above the Luis Bridge.  Did I mention Porto was hilly?  It was worth it though for the amazing view of Porto all lit up at night!  We walked back across the top of the bridge to get back to the other side of the Douro to make our way to dinner.

 

 

Our AirBnB apartment owner recommended a restaurant called Cantina 32, so we ended up there.  It did not disappoint- we split beef steak, potatoes, and salad, as well as delicious pumpkin soup.  A detour on our way back to the apartment led to some yummy ice cream to top off the night.

Sunday we ate breakfast at a hotel restuarant near our apartment before hopping on the old Port Tram City Tour.  The tram was super cool and old-school, and gave us great views of the river.  We got off where the tram ended, near the western coast where the Douro meets the ocean.  B and I found a mini golf course and decided to play a round.  The course was crazy, but a lot of fun.  Next to the casual mini golf course was the “Petergolf” course, which was a professional course (yes, professional mini golf, who knew?!).  There was a tournament going on while we were playing, which was both interesting and hilarious to witness.

 

 

B destroyed me, as usual (thanks to a 20-shot hole I had, oops!).  We then headed down to the beach area and took a walk along the coast.  It was half rock, half sand, and almost completely littered with trash, which was a bummer.  It started to rain a bit, so we headed back toward the tram to take us back into the city centre.  We ate lunch at a restaurant along the river, sharing the Porto-famous “Francesinha” sandwich.

 

 

Since it was mid-afternoon, we decided to head back to the apartment to rest and come up with a game-plan for the evening.  Our plan was to check out the San Francisco church, then get dinner at a nearby restaurant.  The church ended up being closed, so we tried to go directly to the restaurant.  Being silly Americans, we didn’t realize it wouldn’t be open for dinner yet (they opened at 7:30 and it was only 6ish).  Most of Europe certainly runs on a different time schedule than America, and even somewhat different than where we live in the UK.

It ended up being a bit of a blessing in disguise that both the church and restaurant were closed as we ended up wandering around, running right into the Livraria Lello, a famous old bookstore in Porto.  It was high on my list of things to see in Porto but I thought it was closed on Sundays, so we were planning on going the next day before we left the city.  I am so glad we stumbled upon it, even though they were closing in 20 minutes.  It was absolutely beautiful!  It is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal, and often makes the list for most beautiful bookstores in the world!  Rumor has it that JK Rowling used to frequent it when she lived and taught English in Porto.

 

 

After a bit more wandering, we ended up at another highly recommended restaurant for dinner, Traca, which was right around the corner from our apartment.

Monday was our last day in Porto, but we didn’t leave until afternoon, so we did a bit of exploring in the morning.  Before leaving the apartment in the morning, we headed out for some coffee and also bought some local olive oil to bring back to the UK.  The owner of the shop we went to was beyond kind and helpful- forcing allowing us to try all the different types of olive oils they sold.  We also stopped at a wine shop and stocked up on some (non-Port) Douro Valley wine to bring back for me to enjoy this summer.  We also bought some for our amazing babysitter, since she had to put up with Benjamin all weekend ;).  We carefully packed our goodies into our suitcase and headed to the train station to store our bag until we headed to the airport.  We checked two more things off of our “must see/do” list by the afternoon- the famous and delicious Majestic Cafe, and the Dos Clerigos tower.

The Majestic Cafe was just that, majestic!  It was beautiful and old and served the thickest, richest hot chocolate I have ever tasted in my life!  The french toast was delectable as well- definitely a good choice for brunch.

 

 

To work off our breakfast, we headed to the Clerigos tower church exhibition to climb the bell tower.  After many, many stairs, we made it to the top, where we were greeted with stunning views of the city.  It was definitely a nice little time-filler and photo-op before we had to head back home.

 

 

Overall, we really enjoyed our “babymoon” getaway!  Porto is a sweet, beautiful, old city filled with charm and character.  I am so thankful for the opportunities that I have to travel living here in Europe!

Porto Travel Journal

Look for more soon, I hope to post about the following adventures:

*Girls day trip to Bruges, Belgium

*London (our many experiences there so far!)

*Exploring the UK (Dover, Canterbury, etc.)

*Dublin, Bruges, and Amsterdam with family

*Dublin (again) and Northern Ireland

*Hiking in Snowdonia

*Thanksgiving in Barcelona